Saying ‘no’ at work

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recommends extreme selectivity as a check on your desire to always be accommodating. McKeown likes to ask people to imagine they have no to-do list, no inbox, no schedule of appointments. "If you didn't have any of that, and you could do one thing right now that would help get you to the next level of contribution, what would you do?" he asks. "Maybe all the stuff you're doing should be questioned. Start from zero every day. What would be essential?" People require space and clarity to identify what matters, McKeown explains, and what matters should dictate what you say yes to.

Although it feels good to say yes, be disciplined about the time you give to others. Employees and partners need your help, but mostly they need you to concentrate on what matters.

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

If-Then Planning

It's called if-then planning, and it is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., "If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today") can double or triple your chances for success.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

moving past planning to doing

There is a beautiful study where they gave half the people a lecture on the importance of getting a vaccination, and only 3 percent of the people went. They gave the other half the same lecture, but they also asked them to indicate on their calendar when they were going to go. In that group, 26 percent of the people went to get vaccinations. Not everybody wants to get vaccinated. But the idea is that we have intentions, and unless they get specified in a concrete way on the calendar, they’re unlikely to be carried out.

Dan Ariely speaking to Wired Magazine

wishes are not goals

We often imagine that we generally operate by some kind of plan, that we have goals we are trying to reach. But we’re usually fooling ourselves; what we have are not goals but wishes. Our emotions infect us with hazy desire; we want fame, success, security – something large and abstract.

Clear long-term objectives give direction to all of your actions, large and small. Important decisions became easier to make. If some glittering prospect threatens to seduce you from your goal, you will know to resist it You can tell when to sacrifice a pawn, even lose a battle, if it serves your eventual purpose.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

welcome to Holland

It’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Emily Perl Kingsley

Setting Goals

Can you imagine Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, explaining how he was able to accomplish that feat? Suppose he explained he was just out walking around one day when he happened to find himself at the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Or the Chairman of the Board of General Motors explaining that he got his position because he just kept showing up for work and they just kept promoting him until one day he was Chairman of the Board. Ridiculous – of course – but no more ridiculous than your thinking you can accomplish anything significant without specific goals.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

taking action

It doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Knowledge and intelligence are both useless without action. It’s as simple as that.

Successful people know that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed someday. They don’t wait for the “right time” or the “right day” or the “right (impossible) circumstances”, because they know these reactions are based on a fear and nothing more. They take action here and now, today – because that’s where real progress happens.

Angel Chernoff

The Present with a Twist

Because time is such a slippery concept, we tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, thus our imagined tomorrows inevitably look like slightly twisted versions of today. The reality of the moment is so palpable and powerful that it holds imagination in a tight orbit from which it never fully escapes… we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

The far and near future

Studies show that the parts of the brain that are primarily responsible for generating feelings of pleasurable excitement become active when people imagine receiving a reward such as money in the near future but not when they imagine receiving the same reward in the far future.

If you’ve ever bought too many boxes of Thin Mints from the Girl Scout who hawks her wares in front of the local library but too few boxes from the Girl Scout who rings your doorbell and takes your order for future delivery, then you’ve experienced this anomaly yourself. When we spy the future through our prospectiscopes, the clarity of the next hour and the fuzziness of the next year can lead us to make a variety of mistakes.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Predicting the Future

How much reliance can we place on regression to the mean in judging what the future will bring? What are we to make of a concept that has great power under some conditions but leads to disaster under others? Keynes admitted that “as living and moving beings, we are forced to act… (even when) our existing knowledge does not provide a sufficient basis for a calculated mathematical expectation.”

With rules of thumb, experience, instinct and conventions – in other words, gut - we manage to stumble from the present into the future… The trick is to be flexible enough to recognize that regression to the mean is only a tool; it is not a religion with immutable dogma and ceremonies. Used to make mechanical extrapolations of the past… regression to the mean is little more than mumbo-jumbo. Never depend upon it to come into play without constantly questioning the relevance of the assumptions that support the procedure. Francis Galton spoke wisely when he urged us to “revel in more comprehensive views” that the average.

Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods

Imagining the Future

I often ask people to tell me how they think they would feel two years after the sudden death of an eldest child. As you can probably guess, this makes me quite popular at parties. I know, I know—this is a gruesome exercise and I’m not asking you to do it. But the fact is that if you did it, you would probably give me the answer that almost everyone gives me, which is some variation on "Are you out of your damned mind? I’d be devastated—totally devastated. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. I might even kill myself. So who invited you to this party anyway?"

If at this point I’m not actually wearing the person’s cocktail, I usually probe a bit further and ask how he came to his conclusion. What thoughts or images came to mind, what information did he consider? People typically tell me that they imagined hearing the news, or they imagined opening the door to an empty bedroom.

But in my long history of asking this question and thereby excluding myself from every social circle to which I formerly belonged, I have yet to hear a single person tell me that in addition to these heartbreaking, morbid images, they also imagined the other things that would inevitably happen in the two years following the death of their child.

Indeed, not one person has ever mentioned attending another child’s school play, or making love with his spouse, or eating a taffy apple on a warm summer evening, or reading a book, or writing a book, or riding a bicycle, or any of the many activities that we—and that they—would expect to happen in those two years.

Now, I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that a bite of gooey candy compensates for the loss of a child. That isn’t the point. What I am suggesting is that the two-year period following a tragic event has to contain something—that is, it must be filled with episodes and occurrences of some kind—and these episodes and occurrences must have some emotional consequences.

Regardless of whether those consequences are large or small, negative or positive, one cannot answer my question accurately without considering them. And yet, not one person I know has ever imagined anything other than the single, awful event suggested by my question. When they imagine the future, there is a whole lot missing, and the things that are missing matter.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Futurity

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Transcending the Present

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Additive Thinking

We should avoid ruminating on what went wrong—“If only I hadn’t done that.” That’s called subtractive thinking. What works is additive thinking. Say you’re playing basketball: Rather than saying to yourself, “Oh, if only I’d made that shot,” think, “I have another strategy I didn’t use. Next time I’ll drive to the hole and then I can shoot or dish it.” If you think about things that didn’t happen that you’d like to do next time, you can prime your brain for better performance after a failure.

Po Bronson quoted in Wired magazine

Start before You’re Ready

A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.

You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.

James Clear